Have you ever heard of the Kindermort? I hadn’t either, until listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast on World War I Blueprint for Armageddon. Long-story short, the Kindermort was at the first battle of Ypres, when German volunteer students exempt from the draft marched, almost arm-in-arm into the blazing guns of well-trained and rapid-firing British Fusiliers. All 25,000 of these fresh-faced youth were mowed down, having achieved nothing for their side. A lack of training more than made up for the zeal with which they originally approached the battlefield. Of all of the blatant disregard for troops survival demonstrated throughout World War I, the Kindermort may rank as possibly the most egregious waste of life so far revealed.
War is a constant waste of life, resources, national treasure, and the human capacity for thought. World War I is one of the most demonstrable examples of this, but every war in history, from the shortest (38 minutes), to the longest (anyone?) continues this utter waste. On a strategic level war is simply stupid: the waste is not worth the potential gain. On a personal level, all war is a tragedy. The wars of history have taken sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers from the arms of their loved ones, thrust them into terrifying circumstances from which none can possibly return whole, if they return at all.
As a father of a 4 year-old son, the threat of war changing my son, or taking him from us forever, haunts me daily. I look around the world, understanding the propensity toward war, and I am fearful. Fearful for his future, for his life, and for humanity as a whole. How can we keep having these wars? How can we make war a thing of the past? My fear drives a desire to turn the human mind away from war, if for no other selfish reason than to save the life of my son.
What I’ve come upon in my research is that wars are based off of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what those we classify as the enemy is doing. Fear of the outcome if we do not fight. Yet, as Peter Englund puts it so eloquently in his great work The Beauty and The Sorrow:
“Wars are and always have been paradoxical and deeply ironic phenomena that frequently change what people want to preserve, promote what people want to prevent and demolish what people want to protect.”
For anyone wanting to protect his son, and the son, daughter, mother, father, sister, and brother of everyone else, how do we stop war? Not simply, we stop fear. We can never get away from fear, but we can harness fear to stop war. There are two ways to deal with fear: address it head-on and use the resources you have available to reduce its power over you, or let fear control your actions and limit your mind so that your only recourse is violence against yourself and others. When you do not act out of fear you can make your most clear, reasonable, and rational choices, none of which will lead you to war. When you act out of fear, violence is the result.
Let’s take a look at how we can use fear to avoid war.
Addressing fear head on is one of the two methods of using fear. If you invite in your lack of knowledge of “the other” and begin to learn about them you may come to realize that what you feared is simply what you misunderstood. Beyond greater understanding of “the other”, you can also begin to look at what makes you fearful. What are you afraid of? Is it that you’ll lose something if you do not protect it? Is it that you’ll be hurt in some way? If so, think about how your actions will or will not lead to that thing being lost or that harm being inflicted. It is your fear that will lead to those outcomes, not your ability to think beyond the fear. Therefore, it behooves us to look at all cases of casus belli as opportunities to examine what we’re afraid of, and find within ourselves that there is no existential threat, but rather our nerves that are making us act out of fear.
Beyond confronting your fear, there is another, even more powerful, approach to using fear. Look around you and take stock of your resources, your allies, your opportunities. Whatever you are afraid of pales in comparison to your true power to produce the results you seek. Think of all the strength you can muster, not merely military strength. Can you achieve your desired outcome in another, less expensive, way? Almost exclusively, the answer to that question is yes.
Let’s bring this back to a real-world example. Tomes have been written on Germany’s actions leading up to and including their entry into World War I. Yet, little has been written on how Germany could have achieved all of its goals through confronting its fears and tapping into its vast resources to gain the great power status it so coveted. Germany, acting through fear, built the world’s second largest navy so that it could counter the British at sea. From fear, Germany also produced the second largest army in the world (no one could outnumber the Russians at the time.) Fear forced Germany to confront an international geopolitical system that demanded a three-front war: At sea, in the West, and in the East. This was a war Germany was ill-prepared to fight. It was a misapplication of resources due to fear of everything outside of Germany. Germany held on tight to the one friend it had in the world, Austria-Hungary, compelling the Germans to do anything they could not to lose that friend, including entering into a war for which they were not equipped.
Instead, what if the Germans had looked around and realized that yes, there was the potential for the rest of Europe to gang up on them. Instead of building arms, what if they had reached out to make friends with their potential rivals? What if the Germans had worked with the French to figure out a way to administer Alsace-Lorraine so that both sides got what they wanted out of the deal (coal and steel)? What if the Germans, instead of building a navy which achieved nothing in the war, used all of those resources to increase their industrial capacity, their ability to trade by building the largest merchant fleet in the world, and improving their infrastructure? What if the Germans had maintained their friendship with the Russians? What if the Germans, upon request from the Austrians to enter a war together against Russia, thought beyond their fear of encirclement, and realized that a war on 3 fronts was just not in their best interest?
The Germans committed one of the most frequent mistakes countries make when it comes time to consider international politics. They heightened the tension, rather than released the pressure. This was true of all of the countries of Europe in 1914, as I don’t want to single out the Germans. Yet, compare that to what occurred after World War II. The Germans, French, Italians, and most of the rest of Europe came together to build a coal and steel community, a common market, and eventually a customs, monetary, and hopefully soon a banking union. These actions were driven by fear (of the Soviet Union) as well as by encouragement (The Marshall Plan). Harnessed fear drove the creation of the most stable, economically vibrant, and enduring Europe the world has seen since the height of the Roman Empire (also built on fear, but that’s for another article).
We can look at East Asia and see another region dominated by fear. Japan and China are the two biggest countries in the region economically, militarily, and politically. They have a common fear of each other, for good cause. China has a history of dominating the region. Japan has a history of violently doing so during the last century. Both sides hold strong animosity toward each other not too different than what existed between the French and Germans until the end of World War II. China and Japan, and to a lesser but still very important extent the United States, Korea, Australia, and several other countries, are locked in a ratcheting up of tension based on fear of the other, their actions, and projected intent. A lack of understanding on both sides simply increases this tension. Each side does what it can on a daily basis to manage the relationship, while at the same time increasing the pressure by taking actions that destabilize it. There will be a shock to this system, and unless that is managed well, war will be the result.
Instead, though, there is an option. By learning more about the other side, both sides can begin to see what is going on, rather than base decisions on perceptions of what is going on. This can be done by educating the citizens of these countries truthfully. Who’s doing what, how, and why? Not using propaganda to make one government or the other look good.
Beyond that, the potential adversaries can invite the other in to economic cooperative programs that harness the resources of the region in a way that allows every party to benefit from their exploitation.
Finally, the countries can consider an economic union that ties together their financial systems and future in a way that makes war between them much harder to start.
Germany and France had to exhaust themselves through a massive blood-letting in order to make this happen. Japan and China should not have to learn the same lesson.
For the sake of the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers the world over, let’s use the fear that we’re building around the world to harness the true resources we have available. Let’s declare our independence from our Lizard Mind by thinking beyond fight or flight. What can you do to harness the world’s fear of war? Invite in your enemy. Learn from them. Work with them. Build something together. Only in this way can we end the pestilence that is war. Only in this way can your family, as well as mine, be safe in the knowledge that our little ones will never be called upon to die for nothing.